WHEN it comes to writing the greatest plays in the world even a trained monkey could do it, or so one computer programmer believes.
According to Jesse Anderson, a few million virtual monkeys are tantalisingly close to reproducing the seemingly incomparable prose of Shakespeare, by randomly banging away on virtual typewriters.
The virtual monkeys created by the American programmer have already typed up the whole of the poem 'A Lover's Complaint' and are 99.99pc of the way through the Bard's complete works.
The experiment attempts to prove the theory that an infinite number of monkeys sitting at an infinite number of typewriters would eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare by chance.
Mr Anderson said he was inspired by an episode of 'The Simpsons' which spoofs the famous problem.
He set up millions of small computer programmes, or virtual monkeys, using Amazon's SC2 cloud-computing system, and programmed them to churn out random sequences of nine characters.
If the nine-letter sequence appears anywhere in one of Shakespeare's writings, it is matched against the relevant passage in a copy of the Bard's complete works, and is checked off the list.
"If he's running an evolutionary approach, holding on to successful guesses, then he'll get there," said Tim Harford, science writer and presenter of BBC numbers radio show 'More or Less'.
Dr Ian Stewart, emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick, however, said "not a chance".
His calculations suggest it would take far longer than the age of the Universe for monkeys to randomly produce a copy of the 3,695,990 or so characters in Shakespeare's works.